Tag Archives: Family

Those Elusive Life Skills…and My Always Omniscient Mother

A few days before leaving for my recent trip home–this one for the primary purpose of spending time with my father, sister-in-law and niece, at the beach–I talked to my mother on the phone.

I ambled around my dirt-topped backyard as we spent twenty minutes or so catching up, and then told her I needed to go get dinner.

“Okay,” she said. “What time is your flight on Sunday?” And then: “Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!”

I’m certain she could hear the sound of my eyes rolling through the phone.

“What?” I retorted. “Do you really think I’m twelve years old? Jesus, mother. How do you think I survive in the world?”

Let’s just hold onto that question for a moment as I ask you to imagine the way I felt when, sitting at my gate in the Albuquerque Sunport that Sunday morning, I ticked through the contents of my suitcase and realized that I had, indeed, forgotten to pack my swimsuit.

I’d like to think it a testament to the strength of our present relationship that my first thought (after: “Wow. Really???” and “Good lord, Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me!?”) was to tell my mother: I was eager to share with her the laugh.

(And it is perhaps testament to the frequency of this sort of exchange between us that when I did get ahold of her and asked “Guess what I forgot?!” she laughed and said “It’s okay, we have plenty of cell phone chargers!”)

Why do I tell you this? A few reasons. One, it is my mother’s birthday today and I suspect that she’ll appreciate the nod to her all-knowing-ness–as she usually, quietly, does. Two, it’s mildly amusing, and when things happen to me that are mildly amusing I sometimes (you know, about weekly) like to share them. Three, to ask this question: how in god’s name do I survive in the world?

It’s been ten years, now, since I moved out of my parents house and went to college in a state few people I knew had been to. (Or, could remember: “Where are you again?” they’d ask. “Missouri?”) Since then–save a perfectly lovely three weeks at my parents house between stints in DC and New Mexico when I worked on grad school applications and took off my pajamas, maybe, twice–I’ve been living on my own.

I’ve lived alone. I’ve lived with roommates. I am the primary (though, thankfully, not the sole) caretaker to an energetic pitbull mix. In a year, hopefully, I will have a graduate degree.

But still: I struggle with the basics of life. (Seriously: it’s possible that I haven’t been to the dentist since the Clinton administration.)

Last week in New York I had coffee with a friend and former roommate from college: she recently finished her grad program and has spent a few months unemployed. Those months have been filled with the kind of life stuff–bills, IRS issues, doctors appointments–that are a constant challenge to balance with work.

“I don’t understand how anyone who has a job gets this stuff done!” she sighed to me over iced teas at a Park Slope coffee shop.

It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my brother R.

“What have you been up to?” I asked him.

“You know, the usual, life things,” he replied. There was a pause. “All that stuff that you put off and don’t deal with, that you do everything else but? Like bills and appointments? That’s the stuff I do every day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

Which is all to say that there are people, my brother apparently among them, for whom basic responsibilities are a manageable burden. And then there are people, people like me and A, for whom they are a persistent struggle.

But, baby steps: in NY, I borrowed bathing suits from my best friend and sister-in-law. Yesterday, I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned in September. The pit mix is sometimes crabby and not the most reliably obedient, but she’s got a pretty good life.

I’m not always sure how I survive in the world, but–with the help of good friends, occasional handy dudes, and an always all-knowing mother–I do. And, I suppose, I will.

Happy birthday Mom.

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How to Mend a Broken Heart: The Real Time Version

The day before before D broke up with me, I found myself reading this post on my friend Sarah’s blog–titled “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”

(Sometimes, by the way, my womanly instincts are so trustworthy it scares me.)

Sarah is very smart and articulate, and she has lots of very smart and articulate readers who comment–making that post a true trove of wisdom and insight that I dare not rival.

However, I happen to have a broken–or at least severely ripped–heart at the moment. (Sorry to break this news–I’m as shocked as you.)

And already, I am thick into the realm of post-breakup copage. Not to suggest that I’m managing this with any superior sort of intelligence or grace, but, as of yet, I haven’t completely crumbled.

Here, my friends, is a loose list of what I’ve been doing–and what, perhaps, I might suggest for anyone whose heart is similarly, unexpectedly, broken:

(Note: Like most lists, this one is incomplete. I reserve the right to update it in future posts periodically–one thing I know about breakups is that they take more than three days to get over.)

1. Crying in public. Last week, my sister-in-law sent me a link to this essay , from the New York Times website, about the unique urban experience of public tears: both having and witnessing. She sent it to me because the writing is great, which it is. But the writer focuses on the fascination that public crying provokes–not the interaction or support. But when a hot young thing (female, but still) approached me, all red-eyed and wet-faced, in the yoga changing room (pre-class, before such signs could be taken for sweat), bearing a hug and kind words, I felt a sweet taste of much-needed comfort and warmth. Recommend. (Note: this incident did not, obviously, occur in New York–but it did happen to involve two New Yorkers. Discuss.)

2. Crying in private. You will not make friends, and you may scare your (quite easily spooked) mutt, but you must do it. A lot. She will get over it, and so, eventually, will you.

3. Eating fatty meats, and acting a little ridiculous. Hours after the incident, my two roommates and dear girlfriends, S and N, took me out for a plate of Korean BBQ. This has long been something of a tradition for S and me: whenever one of us feels any sort of vulnerable, we go out and stuff ourselves with grilled meat. It helps. Afterwards, S demanded to buy a round of “nasty” shots, and pair it with some “nasty” television. Not having a tv (or, really, the ability to produce said libation) we proceeded to the nearest bar, where we sabotaged our collective chances with the adorable bartender in order to demand that he turn on The Bachelorette. Despite the objections of the less attractive, less accommodating bar patrons, he complied. And thus, my romantic difficulties began to pale.

4. Sweating. Somehow, I managed to lose a boyfriend and a working car in the same week. Meaning, each morning, I have spent 90 minutes in severe heat, contorting my body into unreasonable and uncomfortable positions and, immediately afterwards, used same body to haul myself (along with my vintage-Schwinn-that-weights-almost-as-much-as-me), in slightly less severe heat, up the most obnoxious hill in Albuquerque. There’s nothing quite like anger to help pound those pedals.

5. Speaking of which, feeling angry. Ask anyone who’s been hurt (aka, anyone): the pain is easier to bear when there’s someone to blame. I adore D, and this isn’t his blog so I won’t get into the details of his decision (at least, not now), but I will say this: the man made a stupid choice. He had something good (me) that he could’ve held onto (at least for a while), and he let it go. For this, and only this, I feel furious. That, also, helps.

6. Drinking a lot of lattes, and, generally, doing exactly what I feel like. Normally, I get my “treat” drink, an Iced Decaf Soy Latte, approximately once a month. Now, I’m having at least two daily. I’ve worn the same shorts for three days. I haven’t washed my hair. Yesterday, I thought nothing of spending $7 for beer at a baseball game. Tomorrow, I’m going to buy myself an extremely overpriced sports bra. Hey, getting dumped is awesome!

7. Acting a little bit reckless. This was among the many pearls of wisdom that S has provided in the past few days. Immediately post-breakup, I felt the compelling urge to contact an ex. (Well,  more of a friend than an ex these days, but still: he’s someone with strong sway on my emotional state.) I wrote a text. I didn’t send it. “S is going to tell me not to,” I told N, as we took a walk around the neighborhood before S got home. But, walking to dinner, when I asked her, she didn’t. “I think this is a time when you can act a little bit reckless,” she said. “It’s kind of what you have to do.” Thrilled to receive her permission, I sent. He called. I felt better.

8. Talking to people who love me a lot, a lot. Especially those with goofy senses of humor.  My brother J was clearly very fond of D, but when I told him of the breakup, this is what he said: “Good riddance! I never liked that guy anyhow. I mean, he was from Texas. And so skinny!”

9. Thinking about why I’m really sad. Another of S’s gems was this: “Often, after a breakup, the loss we feel isn’t the relationship so much as the expectations we had for it.” So true. And if I’m really honest with myself, I’m more sad about losing the relationship than I am about losing D. And that says something. Something that leads, lastly, to this:

10. Telling myself things I need to hear. For example: D is a great guy. And I’m sure he could have made me happy. But I’m also sure that someone else can–and will–make me happier.

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On Feeling Like A Fraud, And Our East Coast Adventure!

During the New York stop of D’s and my nine-day, four-city Extreme East Coast Adventure, we landed for a couple of nights at my brother,  sister-in-law and niece’s Park Slope brownstone.

The day before, D had met a few of my numerous New York relatives—mother, one grandmother, one brother—but not yet F, my sister-in-law. (I feel obliged to note that, for her, this title seems distinctly weak: I have known F since she was seventeen and I was five: throughout my childhood she took to regularly supervising my backyard birthday parties—from kimonos to tie-dyes, bless her then-teenage heart.)

And that afternoon–considering F’s lifetime of childcare, it was the least I could do–D and I picked up S, my seven-year-old niece, from elementary school–and, by way of a chaotic playground on 7th Avenue and a slightly calmer stop for Italian Icies on 5th (rainbow for the kid, lemon for us), brought her home.

A little while later, D was downstairs starting a load of laundry when F walked in the house, home from an afternoon pedicure up the block.

She looked down to see S and I sprawled on the hardwood living room floor with sharpies and construction paper, books and scissors, glue sticks and stickers–but no D.

“Where is he!?” she stage-whispered, still only partway through the door.

“Huh?” I looked up, reluctant to distract from my intense focus on the startingly Herculean task S had just charged me with: drawing a cat.

“The boyfriend! I haven’t seen him and I don’t believe he exists!”

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Post Mother’s Day Ode #2 to My Most Lovable Mom

Newsflash: contrary to what one sometimes thinks when single, being in a relationship does not make all one’s problems go away.

Having to move bedrooms? Way easier. Dealing with car problems? Definitely improved. Frequent, fragile mood swings and persistent insecurity about one’s body and talent? Thriving as ever.

One thing, though, that it turns out is a bit easier for me, when I’m attached, is my relationship with my mother.

Now, my mom and I, overall, have a pretty solid relationship. I’d say it’s above average, easily. We talk several times a week. We both have fairly easygoing temperaments. We each think the other is, objectively (yeah, right), pretty darn interesting and lovely and smart.

But as I write in a new essay, featured today on the website Style Substance Soul (like the cross self-promotion at work here? A girl’s gotta do…), it’s not always entirely rosey.

I tend to focus on the ways in which my mother and I alike: you know, on those tics and mannerisms of hers that, because I recognize them in myself, find consistently, irrationally, repulsive: the way we say “hmmm” when other people talk, even when we aren’t listening; the face we make when we look in the mirror. Etc.

But in truth, we are quite different people. As you may have noticed if you are reading this blog, I’m pretty comfortable being open about most things, excessively intimate details of my personal life included. My mother? Not so much.

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On Telling Half-Truths, and Meeting Parents

Let’s not kid ourselves. All of us indulge in some form of fantasizing about romantic relationships. Or crushes. Or objects of whatever degree of  affection. Okay maybe I do it more than you. But whatever–I refuse to be alone in this.

I’m not sure what are the most common varieties of romantic daydreams: walking down the aisle or dancing at the wedding? Having big-eyed children or a sun-soaked honeymoon?

I know that one thing I always imagine, when I meet someone, is some sort of scenario in which that person meets my family.

Why do I do this? For most people, subjecting someone they like to their family would seem a variety of punishment, if not torture. The stakes are high, the expectations overwhelming, basically everyone is anxious. I spend enough of my actual life beset with anxiety–why should I need to create it in my imaginary life, too?

But at the same time, my family is extremely important to me. I can’t imagine being with someone for any sort of term who my family didn’t like. Not just like, love. My oldest brother has been dating my now sister-in-law since I was five. The youngest, who just got married, was with his now-wife for seven years. They, along with my third sister-in-law, too, are basically sisters: I may be separated by distance, but we are all close knit.

So the fact that I could easily imagine my parents and brothers embracing D was, and is, no small thing.

When I first brought up the idea of him coming home with me, D was a bit nervous. Meeting the parents is a big deal, he said. I managed to talk him out of this concern, assuring him that my parents are extremely easygoing folk and telling him that the last person they met, I broke up with a few days later.

I’m not sure how comforting that was to hear, but it worked. I’m not sure how honest it was either. I mean, it’s true: I did invite a guy I’d been with for a couple of months to have brunch with my parents when they visited me one weekend in Washington. And it’s true that a few days later, I broke up with him. And it’s also true that a few days after that he showed up at my Logan Circle apartment to perform an elaborate temper tantrum in which he pointed out that I had “just introduced him to my parents!”

Presumably, he got over it. But regardless of its’ veracity, the story is misleading. Because, besides him, the only guy I’ve ever brought home was J, my “long-term-ex.” (Who happened to be the exact number of years older than me–sixteen years–than my oldest brother, making an already awkward situation that much more. In fact, it was probably far more awkward than I ever realized at the time–things being a little fuzzy when you’re nineteen and in love.)

Which is all to say that, despite my manipulative and slightly fraudulent words to D, meeting my parents is kind of a big deal–even if the bar is set relatively low. (“He seemed like a nice companion to pass time with,” my father commented when I told him about breaking if off with the DC guy–don’t ever accuse him of not being generous.)

I want D to meet my parents because I want them to meet him: because Iam serious about our relationship. Because whether he is someone they can get along with matters. Because I can’t imagine being with someone they couldn’t.

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Team Tannen Forever

The first time I got sick from alcohol, at fifteen, I was with all three of my older brothers–at a Christmas party that my oldest brother M’s best friend held annually at his Tribeca loft.

It wasn’t their fault. Each time I finished off a Heineken, said best friend would swing by and replace it; before anyone could have seen or stopped it, I found myself in the bathroom with M holding my hair back and showing me how to use my fingers to make myself throw up. (A skill that, not too many but a few times since, I have been very, very grateful for.)

Putting me to bed that night, my brother J’s then girlfriend made the well-intentioned but misguided move of placing my trash can next to the bed. The parents were furious with all of my brothers for months.

If you’ve ever been a sibling, you can understand that, as the baby girl, I will always be the baby girl: at fifteen, at twenty-seven, at forty. There is a way in which, in my family’s eyes, I will never be as accountable as my older brothers.

A fact that, I’m sure, was in the back of J’s mind when he took me, today, to get matching tattoos: my first, his a small complement to the collection that already fills both his arm sleeves.

So here’s the story:

Up until last Friday, I’d always told people that I “didn’t understand” tattoos.

“I just don’t get it,” I’d say. “I can’t imagine any image that I’d know I’d want on my body forever.”

And then, a day before he and his wife D arrived in New Mexico after driving six days in a rented minivan to get here, J sent me a text: “Tiny matching tattoos in NM?!”

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The Problem With Memoir?

Last week my father sent me a link to an article about memoir from the New York Times: “it’s terrific, well written, and very funny” he wrote.

I had seen the headline–“The Problem With Memoirs”–but at that point, I hadn’t read it. Probably I hadn’t read it for the same reason I often don’t read New York Times articles: that I didn’t have time. Or at least, thought I didn’t have time. (Who has time to read whole news articles when there are endless Facebook statuses to skim and the internet is crowded with pretty pictures of lemon tarts and raspberry linzer cookies you like to fantasize about baking? Welcome to my world.)

But possibly I also didn’t read it because, well, because the headline promised a pretty direct attack on what I do.

It’s hard not to feel insecure about the impulse to write memoir. That article hammers home, rather agressively, the worst stereotype about the genre: that it’s filled with narcissistic, over-sharing attention whores shamelessly appealing to readers’ most base, voyeuristic impulses.

Now, I have never claimed that I don’t like to overshare. I’m not proud of this trait, but I accept it. The narcissistic label is one that I, with varying degrees of success, try and resist. Do I like attention? Sure, who doesn’t. (Okay, lots of people. But those of us who do aren’t exactly a minority.)

Should everyone who exhibits these traits write memoir? Of course not. Honestly, I think it’s really hard to write successful nonfiction. But it’s possible. It’s possible if you write well.

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